The American Indian Community House is a non-profit that has served Native Americans across New York City since 1969. AICH has hosted programs on Governors Island annually for the past three years and they return in 2020, participating in the Governors Island Residency Initiative.

Winter Brown (@WinterBrownArt)
Header image: ‘entwined skins’ (work in progress). Acrylic ink, pencil & street posters on paper. 22.25 x 17”. 2020.

What projects or research are you pursuing during your residency on Governors Island?
While in residency I’m continuing work on my ‘interTribal’ and ‘putting on beads and feathers’ painting series. I’m doing more exploration on the gestural/cathartic drawing of the ‘entangled’ interTribals I began earlier during the pandemic and racial inequity protests. I’m also continuing the deep relationship with water and emotive/symbolic color present throughout my painting series. And I’m doing more gathering and incorporating of urban materials and iconography (like walls and surfaces), as well as seeds, vines, and other natural things.

I’m continuing to explore gestural drawing, red, and dark color schemes as means to express feelings of anger, sadness and frustration that are, I feel, an inherent response to navigating a colonial environment, and how this entwines with current local and global issues.

In my black paintings, the darkness also mirrors connection to non-physical and/or stormy environments. I like red’s intensity and symbolic associations with action, anger, passion. It’s also as representative of both First Nations people and our missing and murdered Indigenous women. With the drawing, through repetition, I’m transforming mark-making expressive of challenge into images containing beauty and serenity.

I’m combining these elements with fields of circles, which I’ve been covering painting surfaces with for some time now as a continuation of tribal patterning. I’m also continuing other adornment practices, which incorporate sculptural elements onto the painting surface. These are made of various materials, both traditional and Western, and extend our historical Native arts practices in a contemporary way. They are also symbolic of rebalancing and healing those challenging feelings, experiences and trauma, particularly through culture.

The circle is foundational within Native cultures, and historically my own Plains Cree people often painted groups of circles on our tipis to represent the stars. So within my paintings, they represent the endless potential of our Universe, and create non-linear, abstract, gynocentric narratives, honoring and continuing our traditional matriarchal paradigms.

all the luck’ 11.5 x 38″ (acrylic, found pennies, repurposed muskrat fur, felt, ribbon & repurposed bicycle innertube rubber on wood panel)

What has spending time on the Island meant to you and what impact has it had on your practice?

It’s wonderful to have a much needed break from the urban intensity and noise of NYC and to be able to make work within a more natural environment. My studio space at Admirals house has large windows looking out on the surrounding parkland, offering lovely light and space, which is really conducive to and supportive of my creative process. It also helps to have a place to come and focus more on work, with less distractions.

And I really feel the presence of Lunaape Ancestors here, which is a good feeling and impacts my creative practice in a positive way.

It’s also good to be at a residency were other NYC Indigenous artists are also working. It’s a great way to strengthen our relationships and our community.

Vickie Ramirez (@emanuellemarie)

What projects or research are you pursuing during your residency on Governors Island?
I’m working on a new work, Yuchewahkeh (bitter), a story about a woman whose sister has gone missing. I’m also working on an original piece for AICH’s Youth Theater project called Feast. Feast is about a group of Native teens that spot spirits on the Island, and they decide to hide out on the Island to hold a Feast to settle the ghosts.

What has spending time on the Island meant to you and what impact has it had on your practice?
It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime experience! I love the opportunity of “getting away” from the city yet still being near. I love walking around the island. Every step feels like a step back into history. The first week, I was walking over to the Admiral’s House and rolling my computer bag past the chestnuts on the ground, and I could almost hear the ancestors scolding me for wasting good food. Add to that the old-world luxury of the Commander’s residence, and the two worlds began colliding in my head.